(HockeySTL) -- One night, more than 20 years ago, a man by the name of Jeff Collins traveled to Chicago to catch a hockey game at Chicago Stadium, the former home ice of the Blackhawks. At the time, Collins didn’t know that he would stumble across an idea that would become a sort of tradition in St. Louis Blues hockey.
As Collins headed for the entrance of the arena, he encountered a fan-engineered program commandeered by an individual who was using the publication to express his strong opinions about Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz. Collins grabbed the paper and the idea that perhaps he could provide a similar program for the other half of the Blues-Blackhawks rivalry.
On Jan. 26, 1995, after the first 34 games of the 1994-95 season had been cancelled due to a collective bargaining disagreement, Collins made the idea a reality by publishing a program called “Game Night Revue”. Now, 20 years later the Blues publication is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
In its two decades, the program has been run by three different owners, Collins being the first and only publisher for the first ten seasons. After he decided to part ways with the paper, one of Collins’ fellow writers for “Game Night Revue” created “St. Louis Game Time”. While “Game Time” is still being published, its original owner has passed it off to Brad Lee.
“He ran it for seven years and then (another) lockout happened,” said Lee. “He spent time not doing the paper and didn't miss it. He handed it off to a guy who had written for several years, including the front page. That's me. This is the third season I've run the paper.”
Lee became an avid reader of the fan-run papers in the early years, so when he had the chance to take over, he decided to give it a whirl.
“I bought "Game Night Revue" for several years before the lockout killed it. I was in college and then not living in St. Louis for a big chunk of it, but I bought it every game I attended. And I was really disappointed to hear it wasn't coming back in the fall of 2005. And then I heard about "Game Time." I bought one of the first issues and there was an ad looking for writers. I'm a writer. I wrote two stories and they were both used. I was hooked. “
Though Lee publishes the paper and manages the operations, he is assisted by fans, usually a core group of 12, who will send in stories leading up to each game.
“We have a core group of about 12 people who contribute every issue of the paper,” said Lee. “That includes my wife who compiles the Blues' record in all sorts of situations, the guy who puts together how each opponent was built through trades and the draft and our guy who focuses on fights. We have some occasional columnists as well. People send me stories, if they're pretty good or have potential, they make the paper. We're all Blues fans.”
The paper is often seen carried throughout Scottrade Center by fans and is usually a big hit. It can also be subscribed to online for those who don’t have tickets to the game or aren’t in St. Louis.
The publication, which is not associated with the Blues, consists of statistics, jokes, storylines, etc. But unlike typical newspaper coverage, “Game Time” is a publication featuring only hockey-related material.
“Part of what makes the paper special is that the Blues are always second or third fiddle with sports coverage in St. Louis,” said Lee. “Any publication they sell in the building can't touch the depth of information we provide. Or entertainment for that matter.”
The organization has picked up on the popularity of the paper, even discussing with the publication the possibility of providing access via credentials. But Lee said in order to stay independent the publication chose to stick to the process they have always used.
“We pride ourselves on being fiercely independent,” said Lee. “If we got to know the players, it would be harder to be independent. Because, while what we do is an awful lot like journalism, we're fans first. “
Lee and the rest of the “Game Time” crew work hard to make sure other fans have the same knowledge of the team. Making that happen is no easy task.
Lee said the process of producing the paper is simple in theory, but each publication takes around eight hours to produce. For a fan trying to balance the paper and a life away from the publishing process, it is a tough task.
“I edit everything,” said Lee. “I lay out every page on a laptop in my living room. Between doing day job things, raising three kids nine and under and helping take care of my house, I produce the paper. That means a lot of late nights with the paper finishing at 2 or 3 a.m. I send it to be copied. Our head vendor Rich picks it up and then (they’re) sold. Rinse. Repeat.”
Lee doesn’t publish the “Game Time” paper to make a large profit. Most of the sale money is put back into supplies. For him, the goal is to produce a solid read for fans and to “break even”.
“We rent an office copier to print every issue and we have to buy paper and even staples,” said Lee. “Paying the bills is what makes it the worst hobby ever. “
Though it’s not the most rewarding thing in the world, Lee has seen the hobby become a large part of his life in the last few years. When he can, he tries to enjoy that hobby, reading through his work while sitting inside Scottrade Center.
“It's ingrained in me,” said Lee. “Here's the best analogy I can use. Say you're Jon Bon Jovi. And when you feel the hair whip through your fabulous hair as you drive your expensive convertible down the Jersey Shore, you love to blast "Living On A Prayer" on your speakers. And you absolutely love that song live. But to hear it live, you have to make the music. If you don't make the music, you can't hear it. So you put up with traveling and touring to hear the music. To read the paper and enjoy having it at games -- like all of our regular readers -- I have to make the music.”
Lee said his “music” is unlike anything any other North American fan base is offered. Lee is as uncertain about the future as he was when he took over the paper a few seasons ago, as Collins was when he created the first publication 20 years ago. But that’s alright.
“I had no idea I'd be doing this a few years ago,” Lee admitted. “I used to be a real newspaper reporter and editor.” “Game Time" feeds the creative side of my brain, the free-wheeling journalist in me who wants to write what he wants to write about. I have no idea how many more seasons I can do this operation or if anyone will want to pick it up from me after I'm done. So I'll just enjoy the ride and see where this hobby and this Blues season takes me.”